Obscure Series: Joseph of Arimathea

This week we’re looking at the second Joseph in our series, Joseph of Arimathea. You’ve probably heard of Joseph and may be able to tell me that Jesus was buried in his tomb. But, most of us are so focused on Jesus in his story (rightfully so), that we fail to take lessons to heart from Joseph’s part in Jesus’ death. And, I think that’s a mistake, so let’s fix it!

Scripture – The Burial of Jesus

Mark 15:42-46

And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. ESV

John 19:38-42

After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. ESV

Additional Information in Matthew and Luke:

Matthew 27:57, 60

…a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. …60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away ESV

Luke 23:50-51

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action….ESV


This burial story appears in all four Gospel accounts. Mark reports that Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed His last. The followers of Jesus who were in attendance on that day would have heard Him say, “It is finished.” Mark also tells us that it was late in the evening on Preparation day – the day before the Sabbath (a Friday). The soldiers had come to break the legs of the three hanging on the crosses in order to hasten their death but they did not break Jesus’ legs because they observed He was already dead. Just to be sure, one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, causing water and blood to spill from His body.


Mark 15:43 says Joseph was looking or waiting for the kingdom of God, and John reports Jesus as saying, “My kingdom is not of this world,” or in other words, the kingdom does not have its origin here (John 18:36). His kingdom would not be a military kingdom or a kingdom on earth where Jesus, the Messiah, would rule by force. This kingdom arrived inconspicuously in a manger and was tiny like a mustard seed or like a small pearl of great value.


At the moment of Jesus’ death, what do you think the Jesus-followers, including Joseph, were thinking? What would have been your state of mind at that time? Obviously they were experiencing shock, grief, and great sadness. They could have thought that Jesus failed and that He was not really the Messiah or the Son of God. They most likely thought their hopes had been shattered and their future lost.

What would Joseph have risked by asking for the body? Probably a great deal, maybe everything! Pilate could have refused Joseph’s request because Joseph was not related to the family and Jesus was executed for treason. Joseph’s relationship with The Way would have changed his relationship with the Sanhedrin, Pilate, family, friends, and other believers. He would have been considered an associate, friend, or disciple of the man just executed for treason. Joseph’s family might have shunned him and he could have been excommunicated from the Jewish faith.

There was historical significance to the tomb being new and unused. Being an unused tomb fits the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9. Being unused means there could not be any confusion with other remains in the tomb. The tomb was near, so it was easy to get the body to the place of burial. Pilate might have given the body to Joseph because he knew him, knew about him, or knew he was a member of the Sanhedrin. Pilate may have believed the situation to be a political farce, within the religious culture.

If you had been Joseph would you have kept your faith quiet, possibly for many months? Do you think Joseph may have felt guilty for never speaking up about Jesus to the Jewish leaders? As far as we know he did not speak up at the Sanhedrin about his beliefs. He may have avoided attending Sanhedrin sessions knowing the subject of Jesus and The Way were being discussed.

What changed for Joseph that he would come forward now? The Cross! The realization of what happened and why it happened. Guilt might have been a nagging problem. Joseph may have had compassion for the family because they had no gravesite. Alternatively, his actions might have been inspired by God.

Both John and Matthew tell us that Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple. What does that mean? “Disciple” is Strong’s #3101 (MATHETES) and means a learner and one who takes action as well as intellectual agreement. A disciple demonstrates his commitment by following Jesus’ teaching and putting His words into action. (Strong’s)

John reports three times how Jesus described a disciple: John 8:31 If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. [Obedience] John 13:35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. [Love] John 15:8 . . . that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. [Fruit]

Why would Joseph have kept his belief in Jesus secret? He was already a prominent member of the Sanhedrin when he became a disciple. The immediate disruption of his life by announcing his allegiance to Christ may have been daunting. As the days went by his access to the Sanhedrin’s plans may have been very valuable. Other followers may have advised him to remain a secret disciple. He likely would have suffered greatly at the hands of family, friends, and business associates once his loyalties were made public knowledge.

Application Question

If you are a disciple of Jesus, is there enough evidence to convict you? Do you obey, love, and produce fruit?

For answers to these and many more questions about this obscure character, check out the 2nd book in the Obscure Bible Study series or the digital version of the Obscure Bible Study

Also, join us on our Facebook page to talk about Joseph of Arimathea all week long!

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